Bennett's Blog

Getting Reviews and Surviving

Bennett R. Coles | September 23, 2015

Getting reviews online is one of the biggest things an author has to look forward to. It's also one of the biggest things an author can dread. With my own recent release of Virtues of War with Titan Books, I've been amazed at some of the reviews that have been posted by folks around the world.

Depending on who you ask, the book is "crisp", "solid", "thrilling" and "timeless" - or "sexist", "bloodthirsty", "confusing" and "just plain bad". Some folks can't wait for the sequel, while others apparently burned their copy. According to some I am a "new master of the genre" and according to others I am things better left untyped.

Wow. Talk about an emotional roller coaster ride for an author. Now, I can certainly take solace in the fact that Virtues of War is averaging 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com (44 reviews) and 4.05 out of 5 on Goodreads (115 ratings). So the vast majority of people like the book, and many folks have said really nice things. So maybe I should just read the good reviews and ignore the bad ones?

Many authors I know say flat-out that they never any read reviews of their own works. I can see the wisdom in that. Reading the bad reviews of Virtues of War, it's interesting to note that many of them say things like "too much sci-fi" or "too much military". This suggests that perhaps the reader just isn't into the genre which I write, and for that I can certainly feel comfortable in making no apologies. If you don't like military or sci-fi in general, then you may not like my book. Because it's military sci-fi. And I'm pretty sure that's clear by the cover.

The comment "I didn't like the characters" - and there are a few, with varying degrees of venom - is a more interesting comment. My characters are complex, and most of them do bad things at some point or another in the story. But that doesn't mean I as an author condone their bad actions - I'm writing a story which involved conflict. My central character, in fact, does some very bad things in Chapter 1 - and there is even one Amazon review which suggests the reader was so offended by this that they threw down the book and didn't keep reading. This is is real shame, because that reader has now missed out on discovering how the main character hates what she did, and how her bad actions have real, terrible implications for both herself and for all of humanity. The entire story hinges on those bad things she did, in fact. That's the drama, but it takes a bit of time to play out.

Another review, this one from Goodreads, slams the book for being sexist. That shocked me. Sexist? Seriously? Both my main protagonist and main antagonist are strong, complex women who are anything but the stereotypes this reader tags them as. Two of the most powerful (and admirable) supporting characters are senior military officers who are also both women. Reading the review I got the sense that this particular reader - who is a man - went into the book with some sort of sexist chip on his shoulder and was just looking for reasons to criticize. I don't know. Maybe he just didn't "get" what I was writing. Maybe he just sucks. Or maybe I'm just being oversensitive.

And that's the point. As an author, bad reviews really do affect me. The overwhelming majority of reviews and ratings for Virtues of War are positive - but it's the negative ones which I remember most. I understand that not everyone is going to like my writing, and I'm professional enough to let those opinions stand alone without any sort of direct response from me. But that doesn't mean I'm not affected by them.

So, if you're an aspiring author, brace yourself for the fact that sooner or later there will be a reader who hates what you've written. And the internet being what it is, that reader will hold nothing back in condemning your work in full, gory detail. Be ready for this, because it's going to hurt no matter how many awesome, glowing reviews you get alongside the bad one. And then move on - just keep doing what you do.

Are those bad reviews going to change how I write? Not one damn bit. I'm sorry that those particular readers didn't enjoy or appreciate my novel, but it's what I wanted to write and it's what I'll continue to write. There is an audience for my particular style of writing and the particular philosophies I explore therein, and it is for those excellent folks - and for myself - that I write. 

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